Colorado

Supporters of DPS administration claim victory in board races

11:35 p.m.: And that’s a wrap, folks. As the allies of the current DPS administration celebrate their victory, we’re heading to bed. Check back tomorrow for more coverage of the election and what it means for the future of the school district. And thanks for following along with us.

9:45 p.m.: While servers and bartenders, dressed in all black, counted their tips and closed out the remaining tickets of the night at a Middle Eastern restaurant on East Colfax, Roger Kilgore, the animatronic engineer with a soft spot for kids, considered what went wrong with his campaign for a seat on the Denver Public School board.

Roger Kilgore, left, speaks with supporters after losing his race for the Denver Public School Board.
Roger Kilgore, left, speaks with supporters after losing his race for the Denver Public School Board.

“Maybe if I was more flamboyant?” he asked rhetorically.

Kilgore lost his race to incumbent Landri Taylor by more than 5,000 votes.

Taylor was appointed to the board earlier this year. This is the first time he won his seat outright.

“I thought it was possible,” Kilgore said. “I don’t know. It’s hard to read the tea leaves.”

Kilgore was outspent handily by Taylor, who ran unofficially with a slate of candidates who support so called accountability-reform practices including school choice, data-driven decisions and teacher accountability.

Kilgore, who was himself supported by the teachers union, wondered what Taylor had that he didn’t. More money? More endorsements? More name recognition? A tighter political network? Maybe all of the above?

Maybe none of that mattered.

Voters Nic spoke with this morning in northeast Denver had a hard time identifying either candidate by name.

Kilgore said he’s not going to spend too much time worrying. But he hopes the board, which will now have a 6-1 super majority that supports the reform effort, will work in earnest to achieve some of the goals he laid out, including improving neighborhood schools and scrutinizing the bond and mill levy voters approved last year.

“But I doubt it.”

As for Kilgore, he’ll continue to serve on the various volunteer DPS committees that led him to run for the board, this year and last. He hasn’t made up his mind on whether he’ll run again. That’s a few years away, he said.

9:30 p.m.: As her victory party wound down at The Polish Club on W. Alameda, Rodriguez said she was “delighted and honored to be the choice of my district.”

Asked about the sometimes fractious dynamic on the current board, she said, “I’m committed to serve the way that I always have, with respect and dignity and I imagine that most of the board will want to operate in the same manner. We have a great opportunity.”

8:54 p.m.: Kiley stood up in front of his supporters and said, “We’re going to wait and see what happens at 10 before we do anything official.”

After thanking his supporters, he says that he is “going to remain an active community leader in our neighborhood schools” and said he will hold the district leaders to the same high standards that they hold students and teachers.

Then he led his supporters in a chant, in Spanish, of “together, we have the power.”

8:45 p.m.: Gene Lucero, a Kiley supporter who donated office space for the campaign’s headquarters, said of the board winners, “I just hope that they are open to the kinds of ideas that the group that is not winning were espousing.” He tells Ann that he’s worried that the new board, which looks at this point that it will have six out of seven members supportive of Boasberg’s policies, will be too homogenous. “It ends up becoming a yes, yes, yes type of thing,” he said.

8:35 p.m.: One of Kiley’s supporters just entered the party wiping away a tear, Ann reports. “There’s no crying in politics,” Kiley said with a laugh.

8:33 p.m.: Ann has moved on to the party for at-large candidate Michael Kiley, who is currently losing to O’Brien by about 2 to 1. Kiley says that the results are “not what we hoped,” but he’s not conceding yet, Ann reports.

“I was getting outspent six to one,” Kiley said. “We knew it was going to be a challenge.”

8:02 p.m.: Nic also spotted DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg in the crowd at the party for O’Brien, Taylor and Johnson. This election was frequently cited as a referendum on the policies that Boasberg and his predecessor, former superintendent and current U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, put in place. Boasberg tells Nic that he’s excited to work with “exceptional leaders.”

8:00 p.m.: O’Brien, Johnson and Taylor wouldn’t commit to what their first priorities would be upon taking office, but they all agreed that board culture has to change in order to accelerate the rates of growth in student achievement.

O’Brien says the claims that the election was bought, or that the victory of candidates who support the current administration is part of a “nationwide conspiracy” is “hooey.”

“I’ve spent my entire career advocating for vulnerable children,” O’Brien told Nic. “I can’t be bought.”

7:58 p.m.: Reporting from the party for O’Brien, Johnson and Taylor, Nic says that the crowd is overcome with excitement and relief. Mayor Michael Hancock stopped by to congratulate the candidates, who all appear to be winning at this point in the evening.

7:55 p.m.: Poston, who joined Schomp at Angelo’s Taverna on 6th Ave., said she was glad she ran for the board and said she brought “authenticity” and “a true voice” to the race.

Poston, who spent $350 on her race, was critical of the winners, saying, “When it takes that kind of money to get into office, you basically bought the office. I don’t think that’s what our founding fathers intended.”

7:51 p.m.: Schomp tells our reporter Ann that she’d like to have the results look better, but “until we finally see some more numbers, I’m not going to get too worked up.”

Schomp also notes that her opponent outspent her by a rate of about 5 to 1. (See our coverage of the latest campaign finance filings.) “I find it obscene that we have $1 million going into this election,” she said. She also said that if it turns out that she has more time, she wants to make sure that elections can’t be bought with outside money.

“I’m just running on fuel at this point,” she said. “And this whole room of people who have worked so hard.”

7:35 p.m.: And here’s at-large candidate Barbara O’Brien with Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia. Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 7.35.29 PM

7:28 p.m.: Overheard at Meg Schomp’s party: “This election just got bought.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 7.23.56 PM7:26 p.m.: Here’s Michael Johnson, running for the central Denver board seat, reviewing the first numbers as they arrive.

7:20 p.m.: At Meg Schomp’s gathering, as television reports show the candidate behind, there’s a soft groan from supporters. Schomp says, “I just want you to know, those aren’t all the votes.”

7:18 p.m.: Spotted at the Irish Snug party for candidates who have broadly supported the current Denver administration’s brand of reform: Sonia Semion of Stand for Children. She says the next step is to go to work to hold the board accountable and move them “in the right direction.”

7:09 p.m: Ten minutes after the polls have closed, Debra Adair of Brighton tells Ann that she’s at Schomp’s party because her daughter attends the Denver Green School with Schomp’s son. Adair campaigned for Schomp although she couldn’t vote for her. One aspect of Schomp’s agenda that Adair says she supports is “getting community engagement before schools make decisions.”

IMG9512987:01 p.m.: Here’s central Denver candidate Meg Schomp greeting a supporter.

6:58 p.m. Our reporter Nic Garcia has just arrived at the Irish Snug, where at-large candidate Barbara O’Brien, northeast Denver candidate Landri Taylor and central Denver candidate Michael Johnson are all convening. Also spotted at the event so far, Nic reports: Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.

6:50 p.m.: Polls don’t close for another 10 minutes, but candidates’ parties are already starting. Our reporter Ann Schimke says that Meg Schomp is about to arrive at her gathering in central Denver. About 20 people have already arrived, including outgoing DPS board member Jeannie Kaplan.

UPDATE at 4:43 p.m.: Voters this morning shared their perspectives on Amendment 66 and the Denver school board race. Voters, in opposite corners of Denver, were almost as split in their support of the tax increase as they were in distance. They did agree on one thing: they didn’t know enough about DPS candidates to make an informed decision.

Ask any candidate for Denver Public School’s board of directors and they’ll tell you what Mile High voters want for their schools. More often than not, it sounds a lot like the respective candidate’s platform for the urban school district.

But Denver’s electorate will have the final say today when voters cast their decisions on four contests.

The outcome is likely to have far reaching consequences locally, across the state and nation.

That’s because Denver’s school district has become a leader in the national accountability-based reform movement. The school board races here have attracted big dollar donations to see to it that the reforms intensify, not retreat.

But the net result of school choice, charter schools, teacher accountability, high-stakes testing and data-driven strategies — the tenets of the reform movement — are mixed at best.

And detractors of the reforms — who have secured support from the teachers union — believe the strategy is depriving the most marginalized Denverites and their children comprehensive neighborhood schools, whittling the humanities from the classroom and creating a hostile work environment for educators.

But proponents of reform, which started nearly a decade ago, maintain DPS has never been better.

The current board majority routinely favors the often-called free market reforms. They hold a one vote majority, 4-3.

After the results of today’s election are counted, the board could have a super majority of reform backers, flip entirely or maintain the fractious culture, which according to board watchers, has left the district in the weeds of litmus tests and alliances.

Nine candidates have duked it out this fall. The campaigns, from start to finish, have largely focused on school choice, community engagement and board culture, the implementation of a bond and mill levy, accountability and Amendment 66, which voters will also decide on Tuesday.

As the campaigns waned, questions regarding conflicts of interests have also been raised and swatted away.

Candidates generally supporting the school district’s course are former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, Rosemary Rodriguez, Mike Johnson and incumbent Landri Taylor. (Taylor, the only incumbent, was appointed to his seat earlier this year.)

Candidates generally opposing the course charted for DPS are Michael Kiley, Rosario C de Baca, Meg Schomp and Roger Kilgore.

Joan Poston, a candidate for the at-large seat, falls into neither camp.

AT-LARGE

Three candidates are vying for the at-large seat: Barbara O’Brien, Michael Kiley and Joan Poston.

O’Brien has made a career in the education sector, most recently as the head of Get Smart Schools, a nonprofit that trains school leaders. As lieutenant governor, O’Brien had a strong hand in education policy at the state level.

“This race has been a reminder of how much Denver loves its schools,” O’Brien told EdNews in between knocking on doors.

She said the race, which she believes started off on a contentious tone, brought the candidates and community together.

“All of us heard the same feedback: the division between neighborhood schools and charter schools isn’t real,” she said.

The question now is how do we make all schools excellent and provide parents with quality choices, she said.

But O’Brien’s chief opponent, Kiley, believes more needs to be done to support traditional schools that serve Denver’s neighborhoods. And that support begins with the surrounding community, he said.

“Schools have better success if the neighborhoods are behind it,” he said while knocking on doors near Sloan’s Lake. “We also need to streamline the budget process to get more money to our schools.”

Kiley has been active in the district, most notably in the northwest. Kiley was an active participant in the turnaround of Skinner Middle School in 2008 and, in 2012, began similar work at North High School.

Poston joined the race after becoming frustrated with the board’s culture. On Monday, Poston told EdNews that she expected a likely third place finish.

SOUTHWEST DISTRICT 2

Rosemary Rodriguez has long been a public servant in Denver. She’s been the county’s clerk and recorder and was elected to a seat on City Council in 2003.

Recovering from knee surgery, Rodriguez has spent most of her time engaging with voters over the phone. They’ve been telling her they want more — and better — choices in schools to send their children to.

“I thought people would want to talk about how underserved my district is,” she said.

Rodriguez, who has worked for former DPS Superintendent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, the chief architect of Denver’s reform efforts, has taken the strongest position on school reform and has not blinked publicly at the thought of closing failing schools, something her opponent, Rosario C de Baca, disagrees with just as passionately.

“For a lot of people, this election is about getting a better grip with our neighborhood schools,” C de Baca said while fielding phone calls from voters. She handed out her personal cell phone in previous canvassing efforts.

C de Baca, who has served on a variety of boards and community organizations including the Gifted Education Advisory Committee, said after being elected she hopes she can lead the board to less stigmatizing evaluations of students and teachers.

“It’s so easy to judge children from low income homes,” she said. “But it’s hurtful to the students and the schools to deem them as failing.”

CENTRAL DISTRICT 3

Arguably the most important person in the 2013 board race isn’t a candidate but DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg. Boasberg has been used a symbol both for and against the reform efforts he and his predecessor, Bennet, have implemented.

And the current board has given Boasberg a pass, said candidate Meg Schomp, one she’s not likely to extend.

“We are not going in the right direction,” she said Monday during a lunch break canvassing her neighborhood near George Washington High School.

Schomp, throughout the campaign, has demonstrated the kind of scrutiny she’ll focus on Boasberg if elected by raising concerns about the achievement gap, budget and a 2012 bond and mill levy voters approved.

Her opponent, Mike Johnson was a principal supporter of the both ballot questions, 3A and 3B, and served as counsel for the bond until he decided to run for the board position.

While Johnson believes DPS is headed in the right direction, he laughed off the notion he’d be roll over for Boasberg.

“Tom Boasberg works for the board,” he told EdNews from his car while walking a neighborhood. “The board does not work for Tom Boasberg.”

NORTHEAST DISTRICT 4

Appointed to the board earlier this year, Landri Taylor is ready to take a leadership role in developing — and selling — a “culture of excellence” at DPS once he is elected to his seat outright.

“It’s one thing to have a vision, and another to sell a vision. And there is no one who is a better salesman then me,”  said Taylor, the CEO of Denver’s Urban League.

For that to happen, however, DPS needs to recruit and invest in the best principals who can build upon and replicate the success the district has seen, Taylor said.

Taylor’s opponent, Roger Kilgore, has his own idea of what the culture of DPS should like — one based on comprehensive schools in every neighborhood.

“My opponent has a philosophy of bringing the free market to public education; I want a network of strong neighborhood schools,” Kilgore said. “We’re close on the ends, we both want good schools, but were furthest on the means.”

Tuesday, taking personal time from their day jobs, both Kilgore and Taylor are chasing ballots in hopes of representing DPS’s largest and most diverse district.

“The job for the voters is to determine which path to take,” Kilgore said.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect Landri Taylor’s election day canvassing. 

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.